Even if you haven’t read his original stories, the chances are that you’re well aware of just how Hollywood has treated the work of Philip K Dick. From A Scanner Darkly (a faithful adaptation of Dick’s story of dual identity and drug fuelled paranoia) to Total Recall (which had plenty about dual identity but decided to dump most of Dick’s original story – called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – if favour of Arnie killing things and aliens with three breasts) to the seminal Blade Runner, PKD has provided the inspiration for some classic sci-fi cinema that contains some heavyweight ideas. The Adjustment Bureau takes many of the themes prevalent throughout PKDs work and adds in a huge dollop of romance to create a sci-fi thriller you can take your girlfriend to.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a high-flying politician whose only downfall is a perceived immaturity. A chance meeting with the beautiful ballet dancer Elise (Emily Blunt, who is really good here) sees him come up against the might of the Adjustment Bureau: the men making sure that all humans stick to the ‘plan’ as written by their mysterious chairman. Lost your keys? Chances are it’s the Adjustment Bureau who’ve stashed them away, to make sure you that you miss your train and your fate continues in the way in which the Bureau wants it to. Much to Norris’ dismay, he discovers that his plan precludes him from ever meeting Elise again. But something inside him tells that they’re destined to be together. Soon Norris is defying the powers of the bureau and the machinations of fate to ensure that he and Elise are united forever.
There are plenty of great ideas throughout the film with determinism and the idea of free will all given some interesting twists. It certainly plays on the nagging sensation that many people have that there is someone out there controlling our lives
There are plenty of great ideas throughout the film with determinism and the idea of free will all given some interesting twists. It certainly plays on the nagging sensation that many people have that there is someone out there controlling our lives – here they have lovely offices and all look like the cast of Mad Men (even more so when you consider that John Slattery, AKA Roger Sterling, plays one of Norris’ apparent nemeses). The film also tries to explain some of the more outlandish elements of the plot and – whilst not always successful – it does enough for you to go along with it all. Similarly, the romance between Norris and Elise would seem contrived in lesser hands but Blunt (who’s brilliantly foul-mouthed and scatty) and Damon make it work thanks to a undeniable chemistry between the two. Also excellent in the film is Terence Stamp because he’s – well – fantastic in everything he does.
Yet the film still seems to lack something – the endless banging on about the anonymous chairman and his plan feels like being preached at by some drippy Sunday School teacher whilst the climax just comes across as rather self-satisfied whilst leaving a few questions unanswered. And despite some good action sequences put together by first-time director George Nolfi (especially a pretty good final chase scene) it feels all a bit of a muddle with the thriller side of the film never quite gelling with the romantic side.
But there’s enough that’s good here to warrant a look, especially if you’re looking to watch something a bit difference with the other half. Unless, of course, fate is trying to keep you apart.
The Adjustment Bureau is out now, released by Universal Pictures.
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